Can creativity be too distracting for your client?
I create content for clients as a creative director with a graphic design firm. And I create content for myself, and my audience, also a type of client, as a performing artist. For years my partner, both in business and marriage, has seen these two aspects of me as difficult to reconcile, and even more difficult to explain to that first set of clients, the set we share. Because I haven’t seen that difficulty, I had not seen the need to articulate how they can co-exist.
At least that’s what I told myself. That’s often the kind of thing we tell ourselves when we don’t feel like spending the time and thought it’s going to take to answer a difficult question.
And the difficult ones are never just one question. Can one person do both of these things and give fair attention to each? What’s the difference between creativity for art and creativity for business? Can someone on the stages of downtown New York City and Edinburgh Fringe temper themselves enough to work for a human services nonprofit? An insurance company? A bank?
This is something it’s taken me years to understand, and I still struggle with trusting myself enough to believe it. The illustration that comes to mind is from the acting world, but I’m learning that it applies to both.
When an actor goes into an audition, they’re looking to get a job, and most actors spend their time trying to figure out what the casting director wants. This is one of the major reasons why some actors never get any work. If you’re not what they’re looking for, you can’t act your way into being what they’re looking for. What you can do is change their mind about who fits this role. You can be you and be so darned honest and insightful, that they might say: I was looking for a 6’0” blonde for this role, but now I can’t see it as anything other than this particular 5’2” curly headed brunette.
People go into meetings and projects and any process, not just creative, with certain expectations. What you bring to that process is the main thing that can create a shift in those expectations.
So what is that? That’s trusting who you are and knowing the material. If the material is the client and their company, this is a situation that applies the same way in both scenarios, art and business. In that way, I see these as very closely related, if not largely the same. If you can show the client you’re what they need, you get the job. You’ll never get anyone to hire you if you’re just guessing at what they want to hear. You be you and do the work.
Which brings us to the question, can someone on the art fringes also create for the, often-times conservative, mainstream?
When our firm works with clients, we create audience personas. We look at all possible client types and interactions and create personas with details about their lives, motivations, frustrations, how they like to be contacted, etc. It helps us and the client better understand how to empathize with their audiences and communicate with specificity. That personalizes their communications in a way that creates strong connections and greater loyalty over time.
I would argue that every artist needs to be doing something similar. And this isn’t to change your work, which needs to be your voice about what you have to say. This is to find your audience. In his book The Hidden Tools of Comedy, Steve Kaplan says, it’s not comedy without an audience. Granted if you want to be an artist with no audience, that’s your choice. It is not mine. I want all the seats filled when I perform. And if you’re reading this, I’m probably doing a show now or soon, so go get yourself some tickets to come see me. Say hi after the show.
The other critical thing in any creative project is to go into it not knowing. If you know everything going in, why are you doing it? It’s not creative. It’s redundant. But if you go in not knowing, allowing the process to inform what you create – in the case of business learning from your client, their people, and their customers – what you get is organic and authentic because it grows out of discovery.
If what you create is well informed by the audience you want to reach, and authentic because it grows out of the process, you’ll reach people, whether they’re on the fringes or on the trading floor. Whew, one step closer to reconciliation.
And that brings us to the biggest concern for all involved. Can you do both of these things and give them each fair attention.
I have always viewed everything I do as a finite project. That stems from being in theater and stage productions since childhood. You’d have a first meeting. You make a plan. You execute. You break everything down when you’re done and celebrate with a cocktail (or milk and cookies if you’re still in childhood, although that sounds pretty good now too). That has applied across the board whether we’re talking convention newspapers in the emerging markets, website development, park sign system and identity design, or a play, a film, or a solo show going overseas.
They are projects. Managing them all is project management. That’s what iCal is for. And Trello, because you need something harassing you about deadlines. You set priorities based on hitting your deadlines, the same way you took science and lit classes in college, and still managed to prepare for the exams for both. If you didn’t manage that, you should learn. You’re an adult now.
I can reconcile these things and give them the focus they deserve. And when I put it this way to my partner, and also to our clients, everyone nods their head and says, makes sense to me. A week’s worth of preparation, gone and forgotten in under a minute, but it’s the peace that follows that makes it all worthwhile.
And the interesting discovery in all of this for me is the thing no actor really believes walking into that audition, what we have to believe when we enter a meeting with a potential client. I’m going to trust myself to be me. I’m going to trust my knowledge and skills in this area. And I’m going to do the hard work of understanding what we’re trying to do here.
After that, you just have fun.
Dean Temple is the creative director of Drake Creative Collaborative. His clients have included Morgan Stanley Capital Intl, AIG, and the Library of Congress. His solo show Voice of Authority will be at the Kraine Theater NYC in Feb/Mar, 59E59 NYC in July, and Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh in August.